How to ace your writing productivity

Laptop computer with open notebook and pen

Genius is the capacity for receiving and improving by discipline.

So said George Eliot, some 150 years ago. Eliot is the author of Middlemarch – one of the finest novels in the English language.

The thing is, life moves much more quickly today than it did back then. We suffer from information overload, sidetracked and distracted, with not nearly enough hours in the day.

We can find ourselves struggling with very real competing demands on our time, while still needing to fit in writing alongside whatever else we might have to do. For many, that can be a full-time job and/or caring responsibilities, running a business and other key commitments.

Fundamentally, getting it done boils down to three things: structure, discipline and focus.

Organising what precious time we do have is so important – whether it’s an overall schedule for a writing project, or simply committing to be at our desk (or wherever we feel most comfortable to create) at a particular time, for a fixed period, to get those words down.

Naturally, this needs to be flexible and work for our individual circumstances, because routine should never mean imprisonment and, of course, life has a habit of happening while we make other plans!

But chaos isn’t a great facilitator regularity is.

Structure gives us the freedom from which to let our creativity flow and imagination run riot. The basics are taken care of so, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our minds are released to reach a higher place.

Structure also gives us the space for self-care, thinking time, relaxation and balance – all of which are as just as important to our creative process as activity itself.

As Eliot’s quote implies, we master our work by rolling up our sleeves and getting on with it. Refining our technique, self-editing, being rigorous: applying ourselves day-in, day-out.

Fundamentally, it’s about showing up in our own process and committing to whatever’s necessary to create.

It’s no coincidence that we call this our ‘practice’: our method and approach. Being dedicated to our craft, willing to learn, seek guidance and critique, try new things and face down those inevitable moments of self-doubt and insecurity.

Truly disciplined creatives show up regardless of how they’re feeling. At the end of an hour or so they might still be staring at a blank screen, or paper as white as snow, but they accept this is part of the process.

They might take a break, ease off and let their minds rest – but they come back and try again.

The difference between the successful and unsuccessful creative is discipline. As the writer Stephen King says, waiting for the muse is a waste of time:

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.

While we’re twiddling our thumbs, hoping for lightning to strike, we could actually be writing. That old adage about backsides on seats is only too true here.

Staying power is what gets you to that last full stop of your manuscript. The sense of achievement is palpable and wonderful.

This is about our sense of purpose: how and where we choose to direct our energy. So much potential for fantastic work can be frittered away through lack of focus and attention.

  • Are we scattergun in our approach, or laserlike?
  • Do we have a clear idea of what we’re going to achieve, what we’ve set for ourselves?
  • Have we sketched out a plan of how we’re going to make a start and see it through?

Our ability to be productive relies on focus as much as discipline and structure. We might be showing up each day but if our work lacks focus, we might just as well be whistling in the wind.

As a writer, you know you already have the energy and ideas to make really exciting, original work. You have the motivation to reach and inspire others. Structure, discipline and focus are the tools to help you get where you need to go.

If you’re finding it difficult to shape your writing life, try putting these in place one at a time.

  1. Focus – think about what you want to achieve and how.
  2. Structure – give yourself the practical, day-to-day framework to implement it.
  3. Discipline – commit to showing up to do that work.

The chances are you’ll find your productivity goes through the roof.

You’ll feel more organised and inspired.

The celebrated violinist and conductor, the late, great Yehudi Menuhin, said:

Do we not find freedom along the guiding lines of discipline?

As a great artist, he should know.

Review of the year

Well, it’s the end of 2022 and time to look back at the last 12 months in life and business!

Health-wise, I’m pleased so far to have got through another year without contracting Covid-19. I don’t want to jinx this (and it hasn’t been easy), but up to now I’ve managed to avoid it.

This hasn’t been without cost though, because my social world has contracted. I’ve stuck with meeting colleagues and friends outside, and not attending the normal local networking events to connect and catch up with the people I know on the creative and business scene in my area.

Thankfully these days, online remains a viable option and continues to form a large part of my global work. I’ve had very positive and productive Zoom meetings with clients all over the world, which has proven invaluable to stay closely connected and collaborate effectively.

This year I’ve copy-edited a number of book projects which have been successfully published, including these:





– all useful guides written by subject-matter experts to help professionals reflect on their own practice and solve their pain points and problems.

Highlight of the year
Cover of Raise: The female founder's guide to securing investment, gold arrow pointing up towards the right-hand corner on a purple backgroundEvery book I take on for a client is incredibly important to me. This year, a particular success was working with Julia Elliott Brown, author of RAISE: The female founder’s guide to securing investment.

Being a business book editor tapped into the corporate zeitgeist, I was already conscious of the fact that female founders find it challenging to raise finance for their enterprises. Especially from venture capital (VC), which is largely a male-populated world. Even some men within the VC industry acknowledge the bias that exists.

When Julia approached me to ask if I might consider being her editor, I recognised as soon as I read her pages that this was going to be an important, seminal, groundbreaking book by a woman founder and CEO specifically for women CEOs. Someone who had been there, done it and come out the other side with the road muscle to coach others to their own success.

That this book was going to help many founders recognise and smash through those obstacles to get their companies where they need to go.

As a woman in business myself, I realised quickly that I was going to be very personally invested in this project. It was meaningful to me, and I knew it would be just as meaningful to other businesswomen too.

I definitely wanted to be the editor helping her to bring it to the world.

Thankfully, Julia saw in me a kindred spirit for her vision and was 100 per cent on board – a fantastic client with unwavering determination to see it through.

I couldn’t possibly have asked for a better author to collaborate with: our work together over a number of months to shape the book and get it to design was a real creative partnership.

This book will go a long way to inform the people who operate in that industry just how stacked the cards are against women CEOs who need funds to start and grow their businesses. It’ll be doing good work not just now, but well into the future.

I’m delighted to report that RAISE went bestseller on release in the Amazon Venture Capital category, has been enthusiastically received, and is going from strength to strength in the market with its target audience and tribe – which was exactly my goal for Julia and her brilliant book.

New mini-guides
This year I produced six new mini-guides on writing and editing to help authors.

I decided to publish these because first-time authors and experts unfamiliar with publishing in particular often need clear, superfast guidance that breaks through the jargon, giving them exactly what they need to know.

My easy-to-access explainers deal with how to prepare a manuscript, what editing does and the publishing process.

They’re completely free, and available here.

Other resources
One thing I understand from being a non-fiction editor is that authors (and readers) can be seriously time-poor. You already have more than enough on your plate!

I continued my blog series on points of writing and editing to help you gain clarity, boost your productivity and shape your work effectively.

I also included some posts on self-care, because it’s a misconception that authoring has to be a nose-to-the-grindstone, 24/7 activity.

Writing is incredibly intense work which can take a lot out of you. It’s important to structure your practice, and recognise that taking breaks, giving your brain time and space to process ideas, think, strategise and pull everything together can help.

This may seem counterintuitive, but doing nothing is as much a valid part of the creative process as actually sitting in front of your computer and plugging away!

More on this here.

I’m looking forward to continuing my blog into 2023, providing lots more helpful writing and publishing tips for you!

Continuing professional development
Even though I’ve been editing for a very long time, that doesn’t mean my knowledge or skills are set in aspic.

In fact, I can’t allow it to be so – there are always new developments in the publishing industry, editorial work and conversations with colleagues that inspire new knowledge to discover.

A fundamental part of working with words is understanding and accepting that language doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a living, breathing thing that never stays still – is constantly in flux – and as a professional wordsmith I have to stay across that and all the associated developments that go with it.

This year I attended masterclasses by the Editors Guild and American Copy Editors Society (ACES), also the Alliance of Independent Authors’ (ALLi) Self-Publishing conference.

ALLi’s annual conference is an excellent (and free!) gathering of expert sessions for independent authors. If you’re an indie author – and even if you aren’t and want to know more about crafting and marketing your book – I recommend it to you as a source of great, practical information.

Reflection and looking ahead
As 2022 draws to a close, I’m still busy.  Currently I’m working on an edit of a book into January which again, will be extremely useful to businesspeople in maximising both their profit and their endeavours.

I also have exciting development projects in career guides and travel out with my lovely authors for revision, due to come back to me in the new year and slated for publication in 2023.

Every so often, I stop and reflect on the enormous privilege that editing gives me to be deeply involved in the creative process. In bringing books to life that help people in the real world, and being able to fulfil my lifelong love of the written word through my work.

Although I’ve been doing this for a very long time, I still consider myself extremely fortunate every day to be able to get up, sit in front of my computer, open up a file and experience people’s lives and world through their writing.

I never take that for granted.

I hope your year has been fulfilling and a source of joy too.

I wish you a very happy and peaceful holiday and a bright and prosperous 2023.

Picture of Season's Greetings from Lisa Cordaro Publishing Services with a pile of brown-paper wrapped presents and baubles

How to be a thought-leading author that gets noticed

Picture of wood fence with the word 'original' stencilled onto it in red

Are you thinking of writing a book, but worrying that everyone else has got there first?

As an editor, I’m approached by people who want to write books to position themselves as thought leaders, experts, become keynote speakers, use their book as a calling card and lead magnet, or to share their wisdom, experience and learning with others.

And that’s great – all valid reasons for publishing!

The problem is, the market seems so saturated that if you do want to position yourself and your personal brand in this way, it seems hard to actually have an original thought… When you’re writing on your subject area, topic or expertise, the chances are the general points have already been covered.

But it is possible to produce an entirely original book.

How? Because your voice, view, take or system are unique.

I’ll come on to the ways to achieve this below, but first: what I can advise you is how not to do it.

How not to do it
There are aspiring thought leaders out there who’ve been inspired by fast-tracked, high-rolling entrepreneurs, read goodness knows how many business or personal development books and decided to have a go themselves – but there isn’t a single, authentic note on the page because it’s largely parroting what already exists.

Those kinds of books have nothing new to offer, they read as secondhand content. It’s obvious just how much they lack real emotional investment.

(Incidentally, if you need a precis of a book to find out what it contains, you can always check out an app that summarises books – but generally, I don’t recommend this. It’s better to commit to reading the whole thing, if you have the time, or at least downloading a preview of the actual book and looking through that.)

How to do it
To ensure your offer’s fresh, it’s key to research before you even put hand to keyboard. To begin, look for:

  • your comparator titles in the market – who else is writing on your topic
  • who’s publishing them, and how recently
  • how these authors position themselves in your sector
  • their content and angle
  • reader reviews and responses.

Especially for practical how-to books and guides, it’s important to bear in mind that readers want a seamless experience that helps them to get in, get the information they need, and get out.

Readers of these kinds of books are time-poor: they want to go away feeling that their issues have been understood, and that the book has solved their pain points with solid, practical takeaways. This helps them to get unstuck, get moving and initiate real-world, positive solutions or change in themselves, their business or wider organisation and networks.

Your knowledge is invaluable here. But if you really want to stand out, your readers need to know what you think.

Ask yourself:

  • What is my own USP, my unique take?
  • What sets it apart from the rest?
  • What makes me and my view, system or approach worth listening to?

Don’t be afraid of any of that, or whatever comes up when you’re enquiring this of yourself or what you want to write. Part of the journey that every author goes through – especially first-time writers – is finding your voice.

Publishing is a courageous act, it’s entirely possible you may have a bit of doubt or a little confidence wobble along the way. That’s perfectly normal!

In the field of business and personal development there will always be topics writers want and need to discuss or revisit, which are the same as everyone else’s. They’re part of the scene, and that’s fine.

It’s how you address them – your individuality, style and take – that counts.

Don’t be afraid to let your passion and personality shine through!

How to write a great introduction

Picture of blue neon light on dark background spelling 'hello'

Introducing your book well is vital to grab readers’ attention and gain traction.

Think of it this way: when potential readers are ploughing through numerous books on online platforms, they can experience overwhelm.

What they’re looking for is a title that speaks to them.

And as an author, you don’t have much time to engage that audience.

Your introduction will be one of the first things readers see as part of your online book preview (e.g. the ‘Look Inside’ facility on Amazon).

Readers check this to decide: (a) if your book is right for them; (b) whether it’s interesting and sufficiently relevant to them to invest their time and hard-earned.

How you set out your stall for your book can heavily influence their motivation to buy, so that first chapter has to be really good and sell, both you as an author and your value proposition.

Before going any further, it’s worth mentioning that a preface and introduction are not the same (for more on this, see here). A preface briefly discusses how the book came to be written, what informed its creation. It doesn’t go into the actual content or what it’s going to do for readers – that’s where your introduction comes in.

Here’s how to create a snappy intro that turns book browsers into buyers – and, hopefully, your very own loyal author tribe.

Give them a brief outline
It’s fine not to go into great detail of your content here, we’re just talking precis: a teaser.  Don’t give it all away; instead, whet the reader’s appetite with the promise of your content.

If you’re writing a how-to guide or practical book, appeal both to their emotions and their rational side: let them know you see and understand what their pain points are, and discuss how this book is going to solve these for them.

Be honest
But – and this is really important! – don’t oversell, make outrageous claims or promise things your book genuinely isn’t going to deliver.

Trust and authenticity are key: non-fiction readers – businesspeople especially – are a savvy bunch. Employing hyperbole is by far the fastest way for them to feel cheated – not only into having bought your book, but believing in its offer.

The aim should be for readers to come out of your book raving that it did exactly what it said on the tin for them: that it’s useful, engaging and fantastic.

Establish authority
Tell your own story, and position yourself as someone who has the expert knowledge to solve their problem.

If you have a system, outline it briefly, so the reader sees that by the end of the book they’ll have a clear process to follow and practical takeaways.

Be reassuring: let them know that it is possible, they can address their issue and the book will guide them through it.

Write a strong sign-off
This is something I often see as an editor: chapters that end somewhat abruptly, saying what they need to say but without a clear pathway forward.

Segueing readers smoothly into the next content is a significant part of navigating them through your book. This is an important mark of good construction and narrative flow, as it avoids stopping the reader in their tracks.

At the end of an introduction, you want to pique their curiosity, entice them to continue. End the chapter with upbeat, positive feeling and a sense of embarking on a journey through the problem or process together, side-by-side, by encouraging them to read on.

This can be as simple as a brief sentence or short paragraph, but do ensure you include one. It’s also a valuable strategy for online preview, because it plants the thought in readers’ heads to discover more of what you’ve written and have to offer.

A solid introduction is a great way to make your book stand out from the crowd. When readers respond and hit ‘buy’, you’ll know it’s doing its job.

For more handy tips and information on editing and preparing your book for publication, see my free mini-guides!

Why you need to write a book

Pen and book with pages turning

Yes you, lovely reader. You need to write a book!

Seriously, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been thinking about it or are pondering the possibility at the moment.

But there might be all sorts of reasons that are holding you back:

  • Nobody knows me from Adam (or Eve). Surely you need to be famous? I’m not a Times or NYT bestseller.
  • I’m too specialist. No one’s going to want to read it.
  • I know my field, but I’m not a great writer.
  • I’m way too busy. Where can I find the time?

There is one immutable factor: you may well be more likely to cut a book deal with a major publishing house if you’ve been published before, or are a famous name. These days, that is how big trade publishing works: by the numbers and existing traction.

(Whether that has any bearing on how deserving the famous name is to have actually got a deal, or indeed the value of their product, is another matter entirely.)

But – and this is a big but – read on, because it isn’t all bad news.

It’s also a fact that expertise has real value for readers, especially in non-fiction genres such as practical and business books. Publishers are always on the lookout for solid content that delivers.

Not being a name isn’t necessarily going to detract from the possibility of getting a deal.

Niche works too, and perhaps more effectively than you might think. For publishing purposes it’s far better to specialise within your area, become the go-to person for it, than to try and appeal to everyone and everything without real purpose or focus.

You have important intel to share: there may well be readers out there who really want your book, because the one they need simply doesn’t exist yet.

If you have a course or system that you operate, even better. Here, your book is effectively a unique offer. It functions not only as a one-stop shop for your knowledge and positions you as an expert, but can act as a lead magnet to your business.

Writing a book is giving back
Think of it this way: writing a book is a form of philanthropy.

Consider the sheer numbers of people who’ve gained so much just from sitting down to read a book. At their best, books can be life-changing: whether that’s guidance for work, insight into a problem, a system or solution to make the reader’s life easier and better.

Or plain and simple, good old enjoyment!

All of these you can contribute by writing a book.

And the wonderful thing is that a book is your legacy for future generations. You’re creating a body of work and leaving behind something of real worth for many years to come.

Making a start
What do you need to get moving?

Before you put hand to keyboard, it’s important to research well and thoroughly:

  • Look at the current publishing landscape in your topic – if books already exist in your subject area, that means there is a market for them.
  • Find the gap – look at the positions those authors take on it, their content and offer, and see how you can stand out with your own.
  • Research the right publishers – check their lists, see what they’ve published and when. This is important, as a publisher might believe your book is good but perhaps not quite the right fit for them. It’s best not to waste time targeting the wrong channels.

If trying to get a book deal isn’t right for you – and especially if you’d prefer to retain creative control of your project – self-publishing is very much a viable option these days too.

It’s entirely possible to create a quality product that readers will rate and love, and happily take it to market alongside traditionally published works.

Find your USP
Many prospective authors are concerned that writing on the same topic as others out there is simply repetition. In a way this is true, and unavoidable to some degree. If authors didn’t cover at least some of the same topics in their subject area, no books would be written at all!

The key is how to approach it and identify your unique proposition.

Ask yourself:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my take on the topic?
  • What are my prospective readers’ pain points – what do they really want and need?
  • How am I going to solve them – and what is different about my solution?

If you’re working with clients in coaching or consultancy, you’ll already have a really good line into these questions, which will help to create, direct and focus your content.

Gaining clarity on what you’re going to write, for whom and how, are all fundamental to producing a really good book.

Beating the fear
What you might need to do when you start writing (and I hesitate to put it like this, but it can be true sometimes!) is to get out of your own way.

Show your own voice
The reason why people will be picking up your book is because they want to hear and experience you – not someone else, or how you might think they should be hearing you.

You don’t necessarily need to be stuffy or ‘formal’ – that isn’t a prerequisite to publish. In fact, your unique voice and a conversational writing style can work better because it’s more accessible, friendlier, easier to digest and makes for a faster read.

Feel free to share your enthusiasm for, and commitment to, what you do.
It’s fine to show your character and light up the page.

Tell your story
How did you get to where you are?
What is your own experience?
How does it inform the knowledge you’re sharing now?

Your story shows authority and lends gravitas to your content, because you’ve been there, experienced it, taken the time to process and are now ready to share it with others to help them.

Hopefully this should solidify your feeling of being able to write and vanquish impostor syndrome. Just trust that you have something valuable to say. (For more on this, see here.)

Don’t be afraid to publish
As for ‘I’m not a great writer’ – well, it is true that writing is a craft that takes time to master.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t publish.

There are numerous experts out there who are fantastic and leaders in their field – often technical ones, where their vocational focus has rightly been less on the intricacies of the English language, and more on their own specialism – and they’ve still created successful books.

There are a couple of options, if you feel your writing might benefit from being professionally shepherded:

  • Book coaching – this provides active support while you’re writing. Book coaches can help you with outlining and organising your book, review your content as you write, and support you with motivation and accountability.
  • Development editing – an editor can provide you with support when you have a first or further draft ready.  They can assess your manuscript and provide a report and notes to guide you, then work actively with you to refine and complete your text ready for design and publication.

A book coach can help you structure your writing schedule: often, they break down delivery chapter-by-chapter, so you don’t have to come up with a huge amount of content in one go. This way the process is manageable, not overwhelming: you can feel supported and encouraged that you’re getting results within the space you have available.

Development editing works in much the same way, but on a larger scale and often on a longer timeline, with the whole script. Editors understand that you’re writing your book alongside what are usually significant work and life commitments, we don’t pressure to deliver within a constrained time frame if that doesn’t work for you.

Some books take months, others much longer – it really depends on your schedule and what you’re able to achieve. Like any project, it’s fine to allow for a gestation period: time to think, plan, execute and deliver a book of which you can be really proud!

If you’re thinking of writing a book and would like a sounding board for your idea and advice on how to move forward, as well as information on publishing and how it works, I offer a one-to-one confidential call to help you identify and plan your needs.

If this sounds like it could be useful for you, contact me.

Why your first draft isn’t as bad as you think it is

Wastepaper bin with screwed up pieces of paper

Here’s a scenario that every author (and editor) can recognise at some point.

You’ve written your first draft, and are sitting in front of your computer.

The problem is, your internal monologue is having kittens:

It’s terrible, isn’t it.
How much work am I going to have to do to pull this into shape?

You decide to contact an editor for support. Your email hits their inbox, they open it up, look through your sample and smile. Not to themselves because they think your writing is the worst thing they’ve ever seen in the history of literature, and are wondering how on earth to break the bad news.

They’re smiling because they understand that anxiety can be a very real part of the writing process. They have an initial picture of what can be done, and can reassure you it’ll be OK.

Come on, all first drafts are bad aren’t they?
Well, I’d argue no, they aren’t.

It’s a common trope in writing circles that a first draft of anything is naturally going to be dreadful. It’s been bashed out, possibly a ‘pantser’ if fiction (meaning written as you go without a plot map, character arcs or overall plan); or maybe a collection of sections or content needing organisation or structure, if non-fiction.

Classing the condition of any new creative endeavour in a poor light is neither axiomatic nor productive.

Here’s why:

  • It places you as the author at a disadvantage, because you’re operating from a place that’s ‘bad’ to one that’s ‘good’.
  • It automatically assumes that what you’ve done is awful, when it probably isn’t.
  • It places extra pressure on you to come back from that negative place and deliver.

Whenever an author says this about their first draft – that it’s ‘rubbish’ – I refuse to facilitate that. Every script has its own strengths, and even though some editors do employ the term ‘weaknesses’ when they’re discussing a writer’s text, I decline to collude with that term too.

I prefer to say: ‘a manuscript’s strengths, and some areas which might perhaps benefit from review or adjustment’.

Because that is the truth, not diplomatic whitewash.

My take? A first draft is what it is – no more, no less. We’re getting our thoughts out of our head, and that isn’t necessarily going to be pristine or fully formed.

It doesn’t mean the result is ‘bad’.

When we enter into the publishing journey, our first draft is the ground zero, the foundation from which we make a start.

For non-fiction, the purpose of that draft is just to get the information down – and however you choose to do that as an author is OK. Your creative process matters: no one – including you – should slate it!

Having said that: before you start writing non-fiction, it is a good idea to outline your book first, so you have at least a basic map from which to construct, order and expand on the topics you want to include.

The real graft is getting that draft done, so there is something to work with, then refining it, ideally with professional input from an editor – whether that’s structure, content or something else. That will be individual to you as a writer, your output and intention for it, never a one-size-fits-all solution.

Writing is a process, and it can be a long one. Often, we think as we go: new ideas, different angles and fresh content can come to us as we’re redrafting. They can change, be revised or even removed altogether.

It takes time to reach the product that finally goes out to readers.

And that’s perfectly OK.

Slaying the monster
The thing is, authors can be beset by all kinds of anxieties about their writing, from impostor syndrome and perfectionism to creative block and worry about self-expression and clarity.

Heaping scorn on top of that is hardly helpful!

The fact is, by writing a book you are performing a courageous act.

Let’s take a moment to unpack that.

Not everyone has the guts to put themselves out there in print. For every author who has been (self-)published, there are a legion of ‘aspiring authors’ behind them who haven’t had the mettle to step up and share their creative work, expertise or knowledge, for fear of exposure to critique – from an editor, their peers or the wider public.

What motivates you as a non-fiction author is a desire to share for the good and enjoyment of others.

It could be a:

  • business book that proves invaluable for entrepreneurs
  • career guide to advise and lift up entrants or junior personnel in your field
  • practical how-to book
  • hobby guide or manual
  • biography or memoir
  • cookbook for readers to make recipes from your rich cultural heritage
  • travel book recounting your exciting experiences on the road

– and more.

All of these have real meaning, and a good editor recognises that.

Your first draft isn’t ‘rubbish’. It’s just the birth of a new ‘baby’ – and like any newborn, it might need to take a little time to find its feet before it can run!

But it can grow into something truly amazing, if you’re willing to work on it and understand that critique isn’t criticism.

Don’t slate your own work. Believe in its value.

Above all, be sure to find an editor who understands you and your project, who can shepherd your writing with candour and empathy. That’s half the battle won, as they’ll be straight regarding what you need to know to create a successful book and be your cheerleader along the way.

If you’d like to know more about how to work with an editor and the different types of editing, take a look at my free mini-guides!

And if you’d like more information or to have a chat with me about your project, contact me.

The curse of knowledge… and why it can kill your book stone dead

Standing woman with book over her face

When I was at university, I threw a book out of a 12th-floor window.

No doubt this sounds like heresy, coming from a literature grad and professional editor?

Reader, I hold my hands up. I am guilty of this heinous crime against literature.

Well, not exactly literature… Allow me to explain.

You see, the tome in question was a philosophy book on free will and determinism. In the first year at my university, students had to take three different courses other than literature, then specialise in their main subject in the second and third years.

(I went on to do a minor in Russian literature. Don’t ask me about Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy. Seriously, we’ll be here all day.)

The situation is this: I was struggling with writing an essay on the topic, and really needed to study this book to try to wrap my head around it.

The thing is, the concepts of free will and determinism aren’t actually that complex in and of themselves. They can be boiled down to a simple sentence or two.

The problem was that the writing and language conveying them in the book were so impenetrable that I simply couldn’t understand any of it.

It was getting late, and I was desperate to finally get something down to hand to my tutor. In a pique of helplessness and frustration, I opened the window of my high-rise dorm room, cold air blasting my face, and tossed the book out into the night.

And you know what? I didn’t go back down to retrieve it, either.

One of my flatmates studying philosophy for their degree had seen what I’d done from the corridor, howled with laughter, went down to get it, then came back and kindly and patiently sat down over intravenous tea to explain what was in this book, so I could actually unpack what on earth it was trying to say.

There is a certain obnoxious intellectual elitism that wraps up its concepts in language deliberately constructed to shut people out.

If you understand it, you’re in with the ‘in-crowd’. And if you don’t? Writing in such a way that readers find impossible to negotiate is a barrier which basically says:

‘If you aren’t smart enough to understand this, you obviously aren’t worthy of the beneficient wisdom we have to share with you.’

It goes without saying that when you’re writing a book, this isn’t a great strategy. Notwithstanding real terms of art or technical terms essential to your subject, using unnecessarily circumlocutive language can alienate your audience.

It makes them feel confused and unworthy, or just plain irritated and – this is the most important thing – results in their simply not buying your book.

Or if they have already parted with their hard-earned and abandoned it for something easier to digest, delivering an uncompromisingly negative review.

The curse of knowledge afflicts many manuscripts written by experts at some point, but in a different way.

Because the author knows what they’re referring to, they perhaps don’t realise that their readers may not. So they either move on too quickly without clarifying what that thing is or means, or fail to explain why it’s necessary or important.

Assumptions like this can be deadly for a book. Losing your reader kills their interest. And the last thing any author wants their readers to do is put their book down, never to pick it up again.

Or in my case, defenestrate it to what, I considered in fury at the time, was a far worthier place!

One helpful way to avoid the curse of knowledge is to think about how you would sit down and talk with someone who isn’t familiar with your sector.

  • What is their comprehension level – do they know your work or topic to the same degree as you?
  • What do you need to show or tell them to ensure they understand – without ‘teaching’ language that talks down to them, or puts you above them?
  • What do you need to explain to keep the points and concepts clear for them?

Editors sometimes have to challenge authors on this, especially in how-to books. The author’s intention is always laudable: to help by sharing their wealth of expertise, which is positive and good.

But sometimes it is key just to take a step back to check whether the text is meeting the reader’s needs, as well as the goals for the project.

It’s understandable. Ultimately, an author can only write from their own perspective, and it can be challenging to shift their lens to the reader’s. A lot of the ‘curse’ manifests itself unconsciously!

This is where getting feedback from your target audience can be invaluable, through beta reading.

External feedback from the people whom the book is intended to help can rebalance the text, ensuring that they’ll not only find it useful, but enjoyable too.

As for my year of attempting to decipher the great thinkers of the ages, the upshot of my exam was that the philosophy department invited me to switch my degree and join them.

It was a nice offer, but I kindly declined. I’m afraid the thought of another two years of having to plough through this stuff would drive me round the bend.

No, I’d rather stick with Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, thanks!

It wasn’t so bad in the end. Thirty years later, that choice to stay with the subject I love has paid off through a long and happy career in publishing.

Maybe that philosophy book did me a huge favour after all.

How to prepare book prelims

Picture of page taken from Pride and Prejudice

When you’re writing, trying to organise your book prelims can be confusing.

Here’s my superfast guide to getting the order, labels and content right.

Title page

Title page
This contains your title, subtitle and author name. If you’re publishing under an imprint, the logo goes at the bottom-centre of the page.

Otherwise known as the ‘colophon’. This contains:

  • the author name, copyright line and date
  • a statement of right to ownership of the work under the relevant national copyright legislation
  • a legal notice to protect the work from appropriation and unauthorised reproduction
  • disclaimers
  • the ISBN/ASIN number
  • national library deposit information (a legal requirement for publishing print copies) – known as ‘cataloguing in publication data’
  • credits for the book designer, cover designer and if in print, the typesetter and printer.

A short line to the person(s) to whom you’d love to dedicate the book. Note: this is not the page for lengthy acknowledgement. Keep it short, sweet and personal!

This lists the chapter numbers and titles, and the headings throughout the book.

It’s a good idea to keep the amount of headings simple and easy to navigate. Two levels of heading is usually sufficient for a non-fiction book; more if it’s a formal practitioner volume.

If you’re publishing in ebook, the chapter titles on the contents page need to contain hyperlinks to the relevant chapter titles in the book (your copy-editor can do this for you).

If in print, the entries will need page numbers – these will not be the same on the typeset page as your manuscript in Word. Your designer/typesetter can add these after layout to proof.

This is copy by invitation, often by a prominent figure in your industry or sector. It gives kudos to the author and endorses the book, and is never written by the author themselves!

This is written by the author. It’s a brief description of how the book came to be written, what inspired it, how it came about. It does not discuss the actual content.

This does discuss the actual content: what the book is going to do, what it contains and, for non-fiction how-to books, how it’s going to help the reader. It can also contain information which shows your experience, expertise and authority to be writing this book.

Depending on how you want to organise your prelims – and especially for online book preview (such as the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon), which tends to be restricted to a certain number of pages – you could include the following as prelims or endmatter (i.e. at the end of the book).

This credits those who have supported, inspired or actively helped or advised in the writing of your book. Try to keep these short but again, it’s fine to inject some personality – so long as it isn’t a gushing, oversharing tribute!

About the author
This is your biographical note. Again, don’t make this a life story. It’s fine to extract the salient points to illustrate your experience, authority and any major achievements. It’s also good to include a brief personal line, such as where you live with family, hobbies and so forth.

If you’d like to include your contact details so readers can get in touch, such as your professional/book email address or website, it’s a good idea to place these in a separate concluding page or chapter at the end of the book.

Placement of contact details isn’t set in stone: there are different options and solutions, according to the structure and content of your book.

A note on lead magnets
If you have a system, online resource, training course or product to sell, always put your promo ad and call to action at the end of the book.

Don’t put it at the front or in the main text: this can read as too overtly salesy and cause negative audience response.

And that’s it: a straightforward order, with everything in its place!

I’ve produced some mini-guides to help authors prepare their manuscript for editing, as well as other resources to inform on the different types of editing and how they work.

They’re free – grab your copies here!

How to write online for impact

Picture of person at laptop typing with notebook and phone on the desk beside them

Don’t write like this online…

Where Every Single Short Sentence is on a separate line.

Like this.

And this.

And this.


Well, it’s literally difficult to read. When we’re taking in information, our eyes need to move physically from one sentence to the next, to be able to make sense of the content.

Writing one short sentence after another is like holding up a massive stop sign at the end of every point.

It flows poorly – and affects tone and argument, turning a piece into a series of bald statements.

Just imagine reading a blog, article or entire book written this way!

There’s a reason why people write online like this: they think it has more impact. And algorithm hacking has told them that the longer people stay on their posts means more engagement and reach.

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t stick around for content presented like that. It disengages me. As an editor, I look for great construction.

It’s a sign of a skilled communicator who:

  • really thinks about their audience
  • expresses themselves well
  • understands that communication isn’t a one-way channel.

The key here is that it isn’t just what you write, but how you write it that’s as important.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said:

‘The medium is the message.’

Good structure serves and supports valuable content: it’s key to clarity and cognition. If structure works against content, readers will drop out, fast – and go elsewhere for someone who can give them what they need.

So, don’t be afraid of a paragraph!

Whatever you do, don’t translate persistently short sentences to longform, such as a book. Many writers start out online on social media or blogging, and construct the same way for ebook and print – I see it in scripts I assess.

To be sure, walls of text aren’t good either, whether online or print. They’re just as hard to negotiate, because their sheer density does the opposite: completely buries the information, making it hard for readers to work out what is being said.

Short sentences are great – for impact. Use them wisely and they’ll serve you well.

Otherwise, when you’re writing online, it’s good to keep paras to three or so lines.

That’s the Goldilocks length: not too short, not too long – just right!

How to handle repetition… without repeating yourself

Rows of chairs with the same number repeated

Do you remember the 1980s BBC sitcom, Allo ‘Allo! ?

Set in Second World War France, it was a gloriously silly parody of uber-drab 1970s drama, Secret Army, about the Resistance working to get British soldiers out of the country to safety.

‘Allo ‘Allo!’s secret agent, Louise, always entered a scene covertly to reveal key intelligence with this line:

‘Leesen verry carefully, I shall say zis only wance!’

‘Allo ‘Allo! was replete with corny catchphrases that still amuse to this day… but she has a point.

When we’re writing, we’re aiming for impact. We want our audience to sit up, take notice and absorb what we’re saying. Preferably so we don’t have to say it again!

But sometimes we need to, for two reasons:

  1. to emphasise an important point
  2. to make the same point in a different context

At sentence and paragraph level, the key to handling repetition effectively is to avoid overdoing it.

Overemphasis risks hammering the point home
The problem that overemphasis presents is that it can read as hectoring the audience, irritating and even disengaging them completely.

If we’re writing a how-to book, it’s important to keep them with us: we really don’t want them to abandon it (or worse still, leave a negative review).

Here, it can be useful to ask ourselves:

  • Am I placing myself above my reader, rather than addressing them as intelligent equals?
  • Am I teaching and using language of the classroom, instead of being an expert companion and guiding them through a topic or point?
  • Am I venting personal frustration over a point – maybe even fixated on it?

And significantly, is the amount of repetition indicating that there isn’t enough material to meet the intention and length of the project?

This is important too, because if we are finding ourselves simply repeating the same points over and again, it may well be that we need to expand our range, whether in terms of angle or topics.

In this scenario, adjusting tone and going back to the drawing board to research usually helps to present and vary the content comfortably.

Making the same point in a different context is fine
The ideal way to do this is to call back to the previous incidence, and acknowledge the repetition at this juncture:

‘As mentioned previously…’

‘As we saw in Chapter X…’

– and rephrase the point.

Above all, keep it short. There’s no need to go into detail all over again, as the reader will have already assimilated that information. Usually, the callback is enough to jog their memory, they will know what’s being referred to.

Pet phrases
Every author has words or phrases they love or fall back on. This can vary wildly between writers, but the key thing is to recognise how, when and where it happens, and eliminate it if overused.

It’s fine to employ your favourite phrases once or twice, but over the course of a whole manuscript it can become noticeable.

To help with this, make a thesaurus your friend and consciously work on other ways to convey the same thing. This challenges you to expand your descriptive range; and if you aren’t a natural writer, it’ll help you to improve and hone your craft.

Don’t cut and paste
The one repetition crime never to commit, is cutting and pasting text to appear somewhere else in a script. It’s glaringly obvious to readers when it happens, and presents as lazy work.

Do be sure not to dot the same sentences or paragraphs around your manuscript, in the hope that it won’t be noticed – it will, and readers won’t be pleased about it. Why? Because they’re paying good money for your book, and don’t appreciate content that’s been phoned in.

This is particularly important if you have a book deal: the copy-editor will have been briefed by your publisher to weed out this kind of content, and query it.

Granted, repetition isn’t always easy to spot in our own work – especially when we’ve spent weeks or months writing solidly, and reached the stage where we can’t see the wood for the trees!

It’s understandable we might miss some of it, or be unaware that we’re going over the same ground.

A good editor can help with this: we can guide you and your content to ensure it’s box fresh for your audience.

…And says things only once!


For more handy writing tips, check out my free mini-guides!